Leaving leaf-scattered lawns alone in the fall is a great way to support biodiversity by providing hibernation habitat for species beneath the snow, says Canada’s leading land conservation organization.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada is calling on Canadians to forget the chore of raking in favour of helping native insects, including pollinators, and other backyard wildlife over the winter.
Todd Nivens, executive director of the Waskasoo Environmental Education Society, agreed that there are plenty of benefits to putting away the rake.
“It’s great overwintering habitat for spiders, for ladybugs, for anything that might be able to survive between that interface between soil and snow,” said Nivens, who doesn’t typically remove the leaves from his lawn.
He said leaves act as an extra insulating layer between the snow and the ground, and they are a food supply for little invertebrates, like worms, that can survive in the soil.
He said leaves are good for water conservation.
“Leaves on the lawn, they hang onto moisture in the snow, and help release it back into the lawn in the spring. They are also hanging onto any moisture that’s falling before the snowfall.”
Leaves are also free compost, he said.
“Anything that doesn’t decompose, that isn’t worn away or eroded by melting snow or wind, it will get picked up by the lawn mower the first time you mow your lawn in the spring anyway,” said Nivens, who doesn’t cut back perennials until spring because they can be used as habitat.
Red Deer parks superintendent Trevor Poth said leaves are only left alone to decompose in city parks where there are tall grasses.
“On any of our manicured turf areas, we actually mulch the leaves in place. We don’t rake them. We don’t collect them. We run a mower over the fall months to break the leaves down, so they can actually fertilize the soil,” Poth said.
He said if leaves are not mulched, they can kill grass and create a mushy mess to clean in the spring.
“We always just encourage people to consider mowing and mulching. It saves an awful lot of work, and makes your lawn a little more healthy.”
Poth said with plenty of leaves still on the trees, city staff are still out mulching. Work will continue until enough snow falls that it doesn’t melt away.